How To Get A Subject Matter Expert Interview Back On Track

How To Get A Subject Matter Expert Interview Back On Track
Summary: When you design and develop E-learning, you need to interview Subject Matter Experts to get detailed examples, stories and need-to-know information. Despite your best intentions, an interview may go off track. Here are some best practices to get an interview back on track so you can achieve the goals of your interview.

Subject Matter Expert Interview Best Practices

An interview is an powerful tool to gather detailed, quality, and insightful information.

Effective interviewers define goals and clear outcomes for their interview. However, despite the best intentions, an interview it may go off track. Some frequent examples:

  • The Subject Matter Expert may not have the expertise you need.
  • The participant might be reluctant to provide any information – and you feel like you are pulling teeth!
  • You get information that does not meet your goals with too many nice-to-know tidbits, or convoluted data that is focused on the wrong goals.
    Here are some best practices for getting a Subject Matter Expert (SME) interview on track:
 If…  Then…
You are interviewing the wrong Subject Matter Expert
The Subject Matter Expert does not have the right expertise. Politely finish the interview and thank the participant for his/her time.Go back to your sponsor or key stakeholders. Provide them with a list of specific requirements for the Subject Matter Expert, “ I need someone who has a background in x and has worked on the x product for x number of years.”
The Subject Matter Expert does not have the authority to make a decision about the content. Ask your sponsor or key stakeholders to make a decision about the accuracy of the content, or refer you to an Subject Matter Expert who has the authority to make decisions.
There is no motivation from the Subject Matter Expert
The Subject Matter Expert is reluctant to share information and provides one-word answers. Reinforce the “why” for the project. Explain what they stand to gain from the results of the project, or how the company may suffer without the change.
The quality of answers is lacking
The Subject Matter Expert gives a superficial explanation of the topic Ask the Subject Matter Expert to provide details or “color” around specific topics:
  • “Tell me more about…”
  • “Give me an example of...”
  • “Recall for me the time when…”
The Subject Matter Expert provides too much information. Redirect the Subject Matter Expert: “Let’s focus on the learner and what they need to do…”
The Subject Matter Expert uses jargon or technical terms that you don’t understand. Ask the Subject Matter Expert to rewind and provide you with some key definitions.
The answers lack focus
The Subject Matter Expert is hung up about a specific focus. The Subject Matter Expert may have a narrow focus due to their specific responsibilities. If this is the case, conduct additional interviews or gather multiple responses via a survey.
The Subject Matter Expert gets on a “soap box” and talks about things that may be important to them, but are unrelated to your goals. Politely redirect the Subject Matter Expert so they answer your questions. Ask for critical information-what the learners needs to do and know in order to change their behavior or perform a function.
The Subject Matter Expert starts talking about a solution, for example, “We need a video for this…” Thank them for their idea and remind them that we still need to analyze the problem/opportunity and causes and then we can address solutions.


For more information about advanced interviewer skills, see the new eBook “Top 10 Skills for Interviewers: How to Ask the Right Questions to Create Targeted Learning Solutions” at Amazon.